The number of 9/11 victims claimed by the attacks goes far beyond the nearly 3,000 souls killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center, or those in the Pentagon and in the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Many thousands more have succumbed to diseases and medical conditions directly related to the toxic dust cloud left by the collapse of the WTC, including (as of 2020), a total of nearly 400 FBI NYC firefighters and police officers, as well as FBI agents. According to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund’s 2020 Annual Report, there were nearly 3,300 “deceased claims” submitted through 2020.
Deceased victims suffered a number of different 9/11-related illnesses, including COPD, asthma, and other respiratory conditions, along with aerodigestive diseases such as GERD. Moreover, there is mesothelioma, and other 9/11 cancer types such as lung; urinary system; liver; skin; lymphomas; thyroid; pancreatic and other digestive cancers; and blood cancers, such as leukemia. When these diseases are linked to exposure to the deadly carcinogens and other contaminants in the dust—toxins such as asbestos; lead, mercury and other heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among others—the ensuing illnesses can be debilitating. Moreover, it can leave the affected open to pneumonia and other infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
Victims who are suffering a certified 9/11-related condition may be more susceptible to the coronavirus (including the Delta and Omicron variants). Cancer patients undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy that compromises the immune system are especially vulnerable. All those with 9/11-related medical issues are encouraged to take advantage of the free testing offered by the World Trade Center Health Program: “The WTC Health Program will cover testing for members with symptoms suggesting COVID-19 who also have a certified WTC-related health condition of a respiratory nature (e.g., asthma, COPD, interstitial lung disease) or who have impaired immune function secondary to a certified WTC-related health condition.”
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the U.S. in January 2020, more than 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with the virus, and nearly 800,000 have died. According to a September 2021 report, “the official count of 9/11 survivors and first responders who have died of COVID-19 is nearing 100.” It goes on to state that “Advocates suspect the true toll is far higher, given the estimated hundreds of thousands of first responders, survivors and other people with 9/11-related illnesses who haven’t joined the (World Trade Center Health Program).
What happens when the death certificate lists COVID-19 as the cause of death of a 9/11 related illness?
For those whose loved ones had a 9/11 illness and then died from complications related to COVID-19, there is often worry and confusion about the effect that may have on a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund wrongful death claim. Under the law, the deceased victim must have “suffered physical harm or death as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the debris removal efforts in the immediate aftermath of those attacks.” So, what happens if the cause of death is shown as COVID-19?
A death certificate form will show one of three separate cause-of-death categories:
- Immediate cause of death: According to the American Association of Family Physicians, it is “the proximate, most recently developed, final diagnostic entity causing the death. For instance, acute renal failure
- Underlying causes of death: “The fundamental, original, foundational diagnosis or condition from which the remainder of the etiologic sequence springs; it is the diagnosis of longest duration in the chain of events leading directly to death.” Examples include metastatic breast cancer and ventricular fibrillation due to myocardial infarction.
- Significant conditions contributing to death: This is defined as “the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death or the circumstances of the accident or violence that produced the fatal injury.” For deceased victims of the 9/11 attack, a to toxic dust and illness related to that can be a significant contributing condition to death.
If COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death, then, according to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, as long as a “9/11-related physical health condition that is eligible for VCF compensation is listed in any of those three (3) categories then, generally, the VCF will consider the death to have been caused by the eligible condition and will award wrongful death compensation.” Therefore, even if COVID-19 was the immediate cause of death, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund will still likely make an award when a 9/11 underlying or significant condition is listed on the death certificate.
For 9/11 victims who passed away after July 29, 2019, the family’s personal representative has two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim.
What if a 9/11-related illness is not disclosed?
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund “reviews each individual claim based on its own facts.” If a qualified 9/11 illness is not disclosed on the death certificate, the claimant (the personal representative of the decedent’s estate) may still have recourse when COVID-19 is listed as cause of death. When a 9/11-related illness is not shown in any of the three cause-of-death categories, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund will ask for “additional medical evidence that draws the connection and demonstrates how the VCF-eligible condition contributed to or resulted in the death.”
How can 9/11 attorney benefit you?
Submitting a successful 9/11 wrongful death claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund depends on accuracy, timeliness, and attention to details. For grieving family members and designated personal representatives, it can be a frustrating process with many potential pitfalls. While the economic losses may be apparent (medical bills, loss of wages, and loss of benefits, for example), non-economic losses may be more complicated and difficult to quantify but include “pain and suffering” as well as loss of love, companionship, nurture, and consortium. A September 11th Victim Compensation Fund compensation lawyer has the skill and experience to guide families and personal representatives through the process and help ensure maximum benefits.
Contact the New York September 11th Victim Compensation Fund compensation lawyers at Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP today
We cannot bring back the 9/11 victims who have passed away from illnesses, whether COVID-19 or any other disease or condition related to the attacks, but we can help their families move forward with the help of a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund monetary benefit. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs, please contact us online or call us at 332-334-8155.